March 23, 2012

Bipartisan legislation would expand New Orleans program statewide 

In a huge victory for families in Louisiana, the state House of Representatives last night passed a comprehensive school choice bill that aims to create a statewide expansion of the current New Orleans voucher program and provide additional educational choice opportunities to children from low- and middle-income families.

The Louisiana Federation for Children—which worked extensively with allies to help pass the bill and has had significant involvement in Louisiana since the beginning of the fight for the state's first private school choice program five years ago—praised leaders in the State House for the vote to pass the sweeping school choice measure, and now calls upon the Senate to follow suit by passing the plan.

Passed by a bipartisan 62-43 vote, House Bill 976 would include a statewide expansion of the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence (SSEE) voucher program—which is currently limited to Orleans Parish—to children trapped in low-performing schools. Under the legislation, children from families making less than 250 percent of the federal poverty guideline will now qualify to receive a voucher to attend the participating private school of their parents’ choice.

The legislation also creates a “parent trigger” for failing schools, expands pathways to create high-quality charter schools, and establishes a per course provider program.

The bill advanced after adoption of a key amendment that grants authority to the state’s Department of Education and Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to establish and maintain accountability standards for participating private schools that accept voucher students. 

“Yesterday’s vote was a huge leap forward for the state and more importantly, a triumph for thousands of Louisiana’s children,” said LFC’s Lauren Perry. “We applaud the legislators that stood in support of a plan that will provide families with the quality educational options they have long awaited.”

Authored by Representative Steve Carter, the bill now moves on to the State Senate for consideration. If passed, it would create one of the most expansive private school choice programs in the country and would give thousands of additional Louisiana students the opportunity to attend the school of their parents’ choice.

More than 1,800 students in New Orleans currently benefit from the SSEE program. In addition to increased enrollment each year, the program boasts a 93 percent parental satisfaction rate, according to a survey of participating parents conducted by the Black Alliance for Educational Options.